Category Archives: Parenting

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

SoLaR Chapel: Mr. Harrison Ross

Good morning! I was planning to start off today with a joke about construction but I am still working on it. So I decided instead to tell you guys a joke about unemployment but unfortunately none of them worked. Finally, I decided on, of all things, a math joke. Something about parallel lines having so much in common but that it was a shame they would never meet. Ultimately I decided to opt out of jokes and just get right to the lecture.

This is my second chapel lecture in a row and I hope you guys are enjoying this as much as I am. Today, I am going to talk to you, in part, about one of my most favorite historical figures. Some of you might guess that it will be Otto Von Bismarck or Robert the Bruce. Both would be good choices for the classroom but for this setting I think Gregory the Great would be a better exemplar for our purposes. Gregory, as you recall from last week, was one of the Ancient Church Fathers who set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity.

I have chosen Gregory not only because of how influential he was in history, but because of the way he was influential. It occurs to me that the vast majority of movers and shakers in History, the people who make history, and if you recall people are very important, are people who live their lives proactively, rather than reactively. Let me explain exactly what I mean.

What does it mean to be reactive? It means acting in response to a situation rather than creating it or controlling it and God made us to be creators, like him! Being reactive means holding back, waiting, not anticipating but just waiting. Being reactive means living life in an ad hoc fashion; that is to say living life on your heels as you react in an unprepared way for whatever life throws at you. Rest assured, life will throw many things at you. Living life in a reactive fashion means living life unprepared and uncontrollably, it means being an employee of your life, not the owner of your life. A reactive life means you change when you are forced to.

Some examples of living life reactively are:

  1. Scrambling at the last minute to study for a big test
  2. Being angry with coaches or teachers because of an assignment
  3. Begging your Literature teacher, Math teacher, Bible teacher to let you turn in work late

What does it mean to be proactive? It means anticipating what is likely to happen in the future. Being proactive means you take concerted steps to control a particular situation by preparing for the future. Being proactive means you take command of yourself, your surroundings and your life. Being proactive means you do not let fear or irrational feelings control you or your actions, because you are not an employee of your life. A proactive life means you change, for the better, because you have planned to do so by the grace of God.  

Some examples of living life proactively are:

  1. Set a few worthy yet attainable goals
  2. When those goals are met, make more
  3. Get up early
  4. Protein for breakfast
  5. Followed by a 15 minute workout
  6. Read
  7. Go to bed early, get some sleep

What does this have to do with me, Mr. Ross?

For most of your life, indeed even today here and now, you may not feel as if you have not had any real control over what occurs to you. Your parents decide a large part of what you do. You are under their rightful authority. Here, too, at ACA your teachers largely tell you what to do, where to go, what to wear. Again, you are under our rightful authority. As hard as it may be to believe your parents and your teachers desperately want what is best for you and they are being proactive rather than reactive. You may fall into the trap of believing that we don’t understand you. But, perhaps we do understand. We have gone through your phase of life already, therefore we may have a good idea of what to expect for you as well. What is best for you is that you live life proactively, rather than reactively. Let us look at Gregory as an example.

When Gregory took over the Church in Rome in the year 590 things were in shambles. Floods, famine, and war had decimated, not just the city of Rome, but much of Central Italy. His predecessor, Pope Pelagius II, was a good and Godly man, but a reactive man. People, as discussed last week, are gifted by their Creator with talents and abilities. These talents and abilities are to be wielded strongly in service to God and for the benefit of Mankind. Pelagius II assumed, like many at the time, that the end of history was near. His beloved city of Rome was a shadow of its former self. The city that had conquered the know world was now a hellish one. Streets were in disrepair, crops failing, plague strangulating, and armed bandits were rampaging. The dead were stacked up in carts all over the city and civil government was nowhere to be seen. Below the spire of Old St. Peter’s Basilica there was endless misery. Surly, this was the end-times they thought. Gregory assumed, like Pelagius that Christ would return and the Church Militant, the church on Earth, would join the Church Triumphant, the Church in Heaven.

A few months passed and Christ did not return. Gregory shifted from reactive mode to proactive mode. Over the course of the next 14 years Gregory was a tornado of activity. He began by prioritizing the needs of the people. He then determined how to best accomplish the fulfillment of those needs. Finally, he determined that if old solutions did not work, he would need to create new solutions. The first need he identified was that far, far too many Christians were dying well before their time. Famine, disease, and war were thinning the herd at an alarming rate. He divided these into three categories and was then determined to fight them by any means.

The church was often gifted land in far away places. Gregory sold this land and began purchasing contiguous land in and around Rome. Eventually this totaled around 5,000 square miles (slightly larger than Connecticut). This land was then turned over to the poor to grow crops and raise livestock. This, in time, solved the problem of famine.

With the people well fed, or at least better fed, the plague was reduced. Hunger had weakened many, the young and old especially. This solved two of Gregory’s most pressing concerns. The third was the rampant violence across the land. Traditionally, up until this point in church history, pacifism had reigned. The church did not fight back. Unfortunately, this may well have made Christians an easy target. Gregory grew tired of the Church being a target. For the first time, but certainly not the last time, the Church armed itself. This is controversial. This is new for this time. This is History.

Hiring generals and soldiers, Gregory, or as he soon became known, “The Consul of God”, used his forces to police the countryside and drive off the heretical Lombards who often coordinated attacks against Church property and peoples. It must be noted that eventually Gregory was able to negotiate treaties with the Lombards who, for a time, left the Church in peace. When the danger had passed Gregory disbanded his armed forces, but was always prepared to call them back to service should the need arise. “Peace through strength” may well have been a motto Gregory would have endorsed.

What can we learn from Gregory? You may well never find yourself in charge of a church, located near the Tiber River, wherein the members of that church are inundated by plague and famine, but you are in charge of your life. Let us look again at your lot. You do not, often, get to decide where you go but you do get to decide if you will cooperate with rightful authority or if you will be troublesome. You may not, usually, get to decide what clothes you will wear to school but you can decide if you will comply with the rules or if you will be bothersome and contrary. My point is that you typically have more control over your life than you might suspect.

You control the grades you make by how often and how well you study. You control how people treat you by making it clear to those that do not treat you well that you will not tolerate such behavior. You control who your friends are by choosing those that help lift you up and moving away from those who you know are bad influences. You control whether or not you are a good person by doing the things you were made to do…Honor the Lord with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. You control the vast majority of your life and you need to begin exercising that control, because in a short time you will be an adult and people will not be as understanding as your parents and teachers. When you are eventually released into the wild, will you be a person who reacts, backpedals, waits, scrambles to catch up? Or will you be a hard charger who advances, plans, works, succeeds and races ahead? Will you be reactive or proactive?

While preparing for this lecture I found a few verses from scripture that caught my eye. The three of these are from the KJV.

  1. Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do , do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou goest.

Solomon, the author, is warning us very sternly that time is limited. Or as the song goes…there is not time to kill nor time to throw away.

  1. Romans 14:12 – So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.

Paul the Apostle reminds us, quite starkly, that we will be held accountable to what we do with our lives.

  1. Colossians 3:17 – And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Again the Apostle Paul urges us to be mindful of our duty to use our talents and abilities for Kingdom work.

Taken together, we are told, quite clearly, that your time here on earth is limited. What will you do with your time? Will you react to the world, or will you make the world react to you?

Transcendence

Anything that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”  C.S. Lewis

Everything in this world is perishing and will expire quickly, so therefore our hope, trust and focus must be in the eternal, transcendent God of all creation.  One of the many attributes of God is his “transcendence.” Transcendence – means to go beyond or above the range of normal experience or (from Latin) of climbing or going beyond.

Synonyms are incomparable, matchless, peerless, unrivaled, beyond compare/comparison, unparalleled, unequaled, without equal, second to none, unsurpassed, unsurpassable and so on…you all get the point.

Philosophers and other thinkers in the modern world have attempted to change “transcendence” or merely water it down.  Their definitions typically involve the ability with our own minds to “transcend” or go beyond. This places the term back into the physical, which is perishing and does not benefit the eternally significant things that we as Christians should be concerned with.  Our goal is to reclaim this Godly attribute for his glory.

Some of you may know of an athlete that has transcended the record book or gone above and beyond in his or her sport.  Michael Jordan would literally jump from beyond the free-throw line and slam dunk the basketball, for example! This was absolutely unheard of in the early 90’s.  Or you may often speak of a particular moment in your life that stands out far above all others. 

How does this term transcendent apply to God, however? In the Godly sense, transcendence is the idea that God is both above and independent from his creation.  There is no other created thing that matches his power. Think about it, if God created everything then how would anything he created be equal to him and his power.  It can’t! Also, nothing else can interfere with his power. He created all things including space, time, energy, and matter. Therefore, he is able to control whatever he pleases.  

We are all searching for knowledge and have a desire for it, however our limited minds are unable to grasp the eternal things that really matter outside of a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ who is God.  A theologian named A.W. Tozer calls this “The Knowledge of the Holy,” which to him was attained by a better understanding of the attributes of God (immutability, immanence, omnipresence, transcendence, and so on) which lead us to a better understanding of God and who he is.

We can focus on things that are transcendent, both beyond and not limited by space and time, namely the attributes of God including his “being above” the things of this world or his transcendence.  Catechisms, Scripture memorization, and so on focus on things that which are eternal thus keeping us from being distracted by the temporal (social media, video games, etc.) which do not have value of eternal significance and actually detract from our relationship with God.  Having an eternal perspective is a real challenge, however. It takes discipline and mental focus to channel your efforts on the transcendent things, such as gaining knowledge of God by reading the Bible, reciting catechisms, and redeeming the truth out of a world that is counter-cultural, but once you do it you will be more hungry for it and develop healthy routines of studying God’s word and devoting time each and everyday to better understanding him and who he is.

God is transcendent but he is also immanent in that he is above the physical world and everything in it and he is with us, in us, through us with the power of His Holy Spirit.

. . . one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:6

Let’s now discuss briefly some thoughts on how we want to help you all “go beyond” and “rise above” the basic functions of life.  Classical Christian education has most recently been called “Ancient Future Education” by Davies Owens at the Ambrose School and in his Basecamp series (basecamplive.com).  Ancient and Future really don’t go together and are contrasting terms similarly to “transcendent” and “immanent”, however we often use this description due to the fact that we are using ancient, time-tested methods, such as catechisms, in order to inculcate every aspect of your lives which will prepare you for an uncertain future.  We don’t want you all being Christians in the morning and someone else in the evening. James calls this “double mindedness.” The solution to this double mindedness, which James warns us about is a term called Paidia that Paul speaks of in (Ephesians 6:4). This is what Paul is referring to and what he means by paidia when he says to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Additionally, ancient future education is focused on “going beyond” the normal limitations of life with a focus on Godly attributes. In our world that God created, just because it’s old doesn’t mean is bad and just because it’s new doesn’t necessarily mean its good. Our goal is to reclaim or take back those ancient ways that were good in order to help us evaluate those things that are new in order to use them for the kingdom of God.  The fact that those who believe in their hearts that Jesus Christ is the son of God and have confessed with their mouths that he is Lord should have a focus on things of eternal significance.

Future education is the educational aspect designed to prepare you for your future or things that are to come.  You students are equipped with the “Tools of Learning” so that you can focus your efforts on evaluating and pulling out the useful aspects of truth in all things present and to come and reclaim them for the glory of God.  We all must evaluate everything on the basis of it’s truth, goodness, and beauty. This will help us make informed decisions that will allow you to lead the way toward a fruitful life of leadership and truly grow the kingdom of God.  

With our focus on “going beyond” we see the need to not settle for the ways of the world, but rather to transcend them or reclaim them for the glory of God in order to advance his kingdom.  We must look at what we do and decide on what the particular thing makes possible and what it makes impossible.  This tool can be used for the past, present, and in the future. Evaluating the things you do and whether or not they make things possible or impossible helps you to determine which items help us “go beyond” things that are short-lived and won’t last forever.  Let’s use the example of family meal time. Latest research shows that lives are saved at the kitchen table. No I don’t mean that for family meal time you go to war and seek victory although some of your family gatherings may seem this way. Families are able to stay connected, discuss and win spiritual victories, and conquer ideas of the flesh all while sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner together.  We see that families that invest in meal time focus more on the eternal, transcendent things in life which produce young people who are more prone to success, so sitting down together at dinner time provides a perfect opportunity for this to happen. Fast food, therefore, can make this impossible thus not providing this valuable time as a family to learn and grow in Christ-likeness. Now I’m the first to jump all over an opportunity to eat Chick-fil-a and honestly when I have some Chick-fil-a I don’t plan on talking to anyone and anyone that tries to talk to me will experience my ability to selectively ignore the entire conversation.  But even Chick-fil-a can be had around a dinner table with a discussion on the issues of life and how to transcend them by becoming more like Christ by focusing on the attributes of God.

We must evaluate our current practices based on what we want the end result to be.  Do we want to develop traits that transcend this earthly existence and grow us closer and more like our heavenly father or more like the world that is perishing?  Also, how will these practices or won’t they change the world for the better? Will they leave a legacy for future generations? Perhaps harmony is the issue and we have our priorities misordered, but regardless of the reason we must all, as Christians, have a desire to be more like Christ.

There are many other opportunities for us to transcend our current culture and even to focus on the attributes of God including His transcendence, but we must redeem or reclaim the time in our lives in order to make this possible.  Ask yourselves these questions in order to do this: How much time do I spend playing video games vs. having conversation with my parents? How much time to I spend doing things that only benefit me in the present and won’t help me or others in the future?  

So, students remember that this education you are receiving is not just for life but for all eternity so take full advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow because as you do you are becoming more like Christ.  Parents know that this education your children are receiving is so much more than subjects, it’s preparation for all eternity by training your children in the transcendent value of Godliness.

Remember that God is transcendent, that is, he is far above and independent of His creation but He is also immanent — very much involved in that creation. He is over all, through all and in all. What a mighty God we serve and what a blessed opportunity that we have as committed members of Annapolis Christian Academy and the local church community to being brought up in the paideia of God with a focus on things that are transcendent and eternal as opposed to short lived and temporal.   

 

Sources:

Andy Crouch (2010). “Culture Making”, IVP Books

A.W. Tozer (1978). “Knowledge of the Holy”, HarperOne Publishing

basecamplive.com (https://basecamplive.com/old-bad-new-good-way-around-chris-perrin/)

C. S. Lewis (2014). “God in the Dock”, p.12, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

 

 

STEM and a Liberal Arts Education

STEM“. Those four letters are rampant in education these days. It has become one of the most talked about components of modern-day schooling similar to  what “gluten free” and “non GMO” have become to the food industry. It’s everywhere! Just like trends in the food industry, there are trends in education as well, and some trends can be good.  To better understand our role in the current trend we have to ask the question, what is STEM? According to www.weareteachers.com, “STEM stands for sciencetechnologyengineering, and mathSTEM curriculum blends those subjects in order to teach “21st-century skills,” or tools students need to have if they wish to succeed in the workplace of the “future.” The idea is that in order to be prepared for jobs and compete with students from different parts of the world, students here in the US need to be able to solve problems, find and use evidence, collaborate on projects, and think critically.” Since a Liberal Arts, and especially a Classical Christian, education already focuses on developing those skills in our students, STEM in a Liberal Arts environment is a very powerful thing.
Recently there have been numerous articles and studies done to back up this idea that classically trained students will perform better in the areas of STEM because the requirement of those skills are part of student’s daily expectations in the classroom. In 2017 the article Liberal Arts is the Foundation for Professional Success in the 21st Century appeared in Huffington Post.  An excerpt from the article states:  “Tomorrow’s job markets demand creative, collaborative workers to reinvigorate and reshape our social and educational structures as well as our business models. To do so, graduates need open minds and rich, diverse educational experiences from which to draw. The fundamental values of a liberal arts education, with their emphasis on a general education and creating well-rounded graduates, expand students’ abilities to think through various challenges, contradictions, and tensions by design.”  The same article notes that the “2016 Job Outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that hiring personnel increasingly value and prioritize the skills developed in liberal arts institutions and others, including the World Economic Forum, have made similar claims, citing a need for skills like: complex problem-solving, creativity, coordinating with others, cognitive flexibility, boundless curiosity, and deep generalism.”
“Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.”
How do our students perform when it comes to STEM programs? Very well! Classical Christian education at its core focuses on asking children to rise to a higher standard. The fundamental skills in a liberal arts environment are learning to think critically and to solve problems by accessing and analyzing information. This challenges them to think creatively and adapt to various circumstances and tasks. The training and education they receive can be rigorous but the preparation they receive is unlike any other main stream education. For this reason, ACA students possess the skills they need to keep up with educational trends.  Students that are well read and are taught to effectively communicate through writing and speaking, are naturally good thinkers.  They are able to teach and equip themselves and are prepared for the growing trends in an ever changing market.  Most importantly, ACA students are grounded in a biblical worldview that, when coupled with the ability to “think”, provides the ultimate framework for success in all of life. The bottom line is students who have been educated in a liberal arts environment are receiving the tools they need to be successful leaders in science, technology, engineering, math, and anything else they may decide to pursue!

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